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Flight blunder must never be repeated

HOW wonderful the first news must have seemed to 14-year-old Meadhbh McGivern and her parents when they heard it on Saturday night. Meadhbh needed a vital liver transplant, and King's College Hospital in London had a suitable organ available.

Alas, the four-hour saga that followed ended in bitter disappointment after the Health Service Executive failed to find an aircraft guaranteed to fly her to London in time to meet the 2am deadline for the operation.

It hurts to imagine the devastation inflicted on Meadhbh and her family. Their hopes had been raised, then destroyed. Their worst moment must have arrived at 11.22pm. Only 26 minutes after their arrival at Sligo Airport from Ballinamore, Co Leitrim, the hospital advised them not to travel.

That was the shocking culmination of an extraordinary scramble involving the HSE, the private company EMSS which arranges air transport for it, the Air Corps, the Coast Guard, the RAF and Crumlin Hospital -- which at one stage sourced a private aircraft but had to await funding approval.

Most galling of all is that several options, if successfully pursued, could have taken Meadhbh to London in time. One was to await the arrival of the plane carrying President Mary McAleese home from Prince Albert's wedding in Monaco. There were other possibilities, which may or may not have occurred to the HSE.

To put the issues in context, Dublin Airport is 45 minutes from London and can be reached from Ballinamore by car in two hours. An obvious question raised by these events is why the authorities thought a Coast Guard helicopter from Sligo might be a viable option.

But that is only one of many questions for the investigation announced by Health Minister James Reilly. We have known too many inconclusive inquiries. This one must be brisk, sharp and effective. It must start from the premise that finding a means of travel in an emergency is a simple matter as well as a profoundly important priority.

One is tempted to add that it must also answer the question "could it happen again?" Sadly, this has already drawn the answer "yes" from the EMSS company. What does that say about the bureaucratic bungling that contrasts so strikingly both with Meadhbh's pain and the heroic work of the emergency services?

Irish Independent